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An artist's depiction of a solar satellite, which could send energy wirelessly to a space vessel or planetary surface.

Wireless energy transfer or wireless power transmission is the process that takes place in any system where electrical energy is transmitted from a power source to an electrical load without interconnecting wires. Wireless transmission is useful in cases where instantaneous or continuous energy transfer is needed but interconnecting wires are inconvenient, hazardous, or impossible.

Wireless energy transfer is different from wireless transmission of information, such as radio, where the signal-to-noise ratio or the percentage of power received becomes critical only if it is too low to recover the signal successfully. With wireless energy transfer efficiency is the more important parameter.

The most common form of wireless power transmission is carried out using induction, followed by electrodynamic induction. Other present-day technologies for wireless power include those based upon microwaves and lasers.[1][2]

Contents

History of wireless energy transfer

  • 1820: André-Marie Ampère develops Ampere’s law showing that electric current produces a magnetic field
  • 1831: Michael Faraday develops Faraday’s law of induction, an important basic law of electromagnetism
  • 1864: James Clerk Maxwell synthesizes the previous observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory and mathematically models the behavior of electromagnetic radiation.
  • 1888: Heinrich Rudolf Hertz confirms the existence of electromagnetic radiation. Hertz’s "apparatus for generating electromagnetic waves" was a VHF or UHF "radio wave" spark gap transmitter.
  • 1891: Nikola Tesla improves Hertz-wave transmitter RF power supply in his patent No. 454,622, "System of Electric Lighting."
  • 1893: Tesla demonstrates the wireless illumination of phosphorescent lamps of his design at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.[3]
  • 1894: Hutin & LeBlanc, espouse long held view that inductive energy transfer should be possible, they file a U.S. Patent describing a system for power transfer at 3 kHz[citation needed]
  • 1894: Tesla wirelessly lights up single-terminal incandescent lamps at the 35 South Fifth Avenue laboratory, and later at the 46 E. Houston Street laboratory in New York City by means of "electrodynamic induction," i.e., wireless resonant inductive coupling.[4][5][6]
  • 1894: Jagdish Chandra Bose ignites gunpowder and rings a bell at a distance using electromagnetic waves, showing that communications signals can be sent without using wires.[7][8]
  • 1895: Bose transmits signals over a distance of nearly a mile.[7][8]
  • 1896: Tesla transmits signals over a distance of about 48 kilometres (30 mi).[9]
  • 1897: Guglielmo Marconi uses a radio transmitter to transmit Morse code signals over a distance of about 6 km.[citation needed]
  • 1897: Tesla files the first of his patent applications dealing with wireless transmission.
  • 1899: In Colorado Springs, Tesla writes, "the inferiority of the induction method would appear immense as compared with the disturbed charge of ground and air method."[10]
  • 1900: Marconi fails to get a patent for radio in the United States.
  • 1901: Marconi transmits signals across the Atlantic Ocean using Tesla's apparatus.
  • 1902: Tesla vs. Reginald Fessenden - U.S. Patent Interference No. 21,701, System of Signaling (wireless); selective illumination of incandescent lamps, time and frequency domain spread spectrum telecommunications, electronic logic gates in general.[11]
  • 1904: At the St. Louis World's Fair, a prize is offered for a successful attempt to drive a 0.1 horsepower (75 W) airship motor by energy transmitted through space at a distance of least 100 feet (30 m).[12]
  • 1917: Tesla's Wardenclyffe tower is demolished.
  • 1926: Shintaro Uda and Hidetsugu Yagi publish their first paper on Uda's "tuned high-gain directional array"[13] better known as the Yagi antenna.
  • 1961: William C. Brown publishes an article exploring possibilities of microwave power transmission.[14][15]
  • 1964: Brown demonstrates on CBS News with Walter Cronkite a model helicopter that received all the power needed for flight from a microwave beam. Between 1969 and 1975, Brown was technical director of a JPL Raytheon program that beamed 30 kW over a distance of 1 mile at 84% efficiency.[citation needed]
  • 1968: Peter Glaser proposes wirelessly transferring solar energy captured in space using "Powerbeaming" technology.[16][17] This is usually recognized as the first description of a solar power satellite.
  • 1971: Prof. Don Otto develops a small trolley powered by induction at The University of Auckland, in New Zealand.[citation needed]
  • 1973: World first passive RFID system demonstrated at Los-Alamos National Lab.[18]
  • 1975: Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex does experiments in the tens of kilowatts.[19][20][21]
  • 1988: A power electronics group led by Prof. John Boys at The University of Auckland in New Zealand, develops an inverter using novel engineering materials and power electronics and conclude that inductive power transmission should be achievable. A first prototype for a contact-less power supply is built. Auckland Uniservices, the commercial company of The University of Auckland, patents the technology.[citation needed]
  • 1989: Daifuku, a Japanese company, engages Auckland Uniservices Ltd to develop the technology for car assembly plants and materials handling providing challenging technical requirements including multiplicity of vehicles.[citation needed]
  • 1990: Prof. John Boys team develops novel technology enabling multiple vehicles to run on the same inductive power loop and provide independent control of each vehicle. Auckland UniServices Patents the technology.[citation needed]
  • 1996: Auckland Uniservices develops an Electric Bus power system using Inductive Power Transfer to charge (30-60 kW) opportunistically commencing implementation in New Zealand. Prof John Boys Team commission 1st commercial IPT Bus in the world at Whakarewarewa, in New Zealand.[citation needed]
  • 2001: Splashpower formed in the UK. Uses coupled resonant coils in a flat "pad" style to transfer tens of watts into a variety of consumer devices, including lamp, phone, PDA, iPod etc.[citation needed]
  • 2004: Inductive Power Transfer used by 90 percent of the US$1 billion clean room industry for materials handling equipment in semiconductor, LCD and plasma screen manufacture.[citation needed]
  • 2005: Prof Boys' team at The University of Auckland, refines 3-phase IPT Highway and pick-up systems allowing transfer of power to moving vehicles in the lab.[citation needed]
  • 2007: A physics research group, led by Prof. Marin Soljačić, at MIT, wirelessly power a 60W light bulb with 40% efficiency at a 2 metres (6.6 ft) distance using two 60 cm-diameter coils.
  • 2008: Bombardier offers new wireless transmission product PRIMOVE, a power system for use on trams and light-rail vehicles.[22]
  • 2008: Industrial designer Thanh Tran, at Brunel University made a wireless light bulb powered by a high efficiency 3W LED.[citation needed]
  • 2008: Intel reproduces Nikola Tesla's original 1894 implementation and Prof. John Boys group's 1988 follow-up experiments by wirelessly powering a nearby light bulb with 75% efficiency.[23]
  • 2009: A Consortium of interested companies called the Wireless Power Consortium announced they were nearing completion for a new industry standard for low-power Inductive charging[24]
  • 2009: Texas Instruments releases the first device.[citation needed]
  • 2009: Reference[25] introduced an Ex approved Torch and Charger aimed at the offshore market. This product was developed by Wireless Power & Communication, a Norway based company.
  • 2010: Haier Group debuts the world's first completely wireless LCD television at CES 2010 based on Prof. Marin Soljacic's follow-up research on wireless energy transfer and Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI).[26]

Near field

Near field is wireless transmission techniques over distances comparable to, or a few times the diameter of the device(s), and up to around a quarter of the wavelengths used. Near field energy itself is non radiative, but some radiative losses will occur. In addition there are usually resistive losses. Near field transfer is usually magnetic (inductive), but electric (capacitive) energy transfer can also occur.

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Induction

The action of an electrical transformer is the simplest instance of wireless energy transfer. The primary and secondary circuits of a transformer are not directly connected. The transfer of energy takes place by electromagnetic coupling through a process known as mutual induction. (An added benefit is the capability to step the primary voltage either up or down.) The battery charger of a mobile phone or the transformers on the street are examples of how this principle can be used. Induction cookers and many electric toothbrushes are also powered by this technique.

The main drawback to induction, however, is the short range. The receiver must be very close to the transmitter or induction unit in order to inductively couple with it.

Electrodynamic induction

The "electrodynamic inductive effect" or "resonant inductive coupling" has key implications in solving the main problem associated with non-resonant inductive coupling for wireless energy transfer; specifically, the dependence of efficiency on transmission distance. Electromagnetic induction works on the principle of a primary coil generating a predominantly magnetic field and a secondary coil being within that field so a current is induced in the secondary. This results in a negligible range because most of the magnetic field misses the secondary. Over relatively small distances the induction method is inefficient and wastes much of the transmitted energy.[27],[citation needed]

The application of resonance improves the situation somewhat, moderately improving the efficiency by "tunneling" the magnetic field to a receiver coil that resonates at the same frequency. When resonant coupling is used the two inductors are tuned to a mutual frequency and the input current is modified from a sinusoidal into a nonsinusoidal rectangular or transient waveform[28] so as to more aggressively drive the system. In this way significant power may be transmitted over a range of many meters. Unlike the multiple-layer windings typical of non-resonant transformers, such transmitting and receiving coils are usually single layer solenoids or flat spirals with series capacitors, which, in combination, allow the receiving element to be tuned to the transmitter frequency and reduce losses.

A common use of the technology is for powering contactless smartcards, and systems exist to power and recharge laptops and cell phones.[citation needed]

Electrostatic induction

Tesla illuminating two exhausted tubes by means of a powerful, rapidly alternating electrostatic field created between two vertical metal sheets suspended from the ceiling on insulating cords. (This image is rotated 90deg counterclockwise.)

The "electrostatic induction effect" or "capacitive coupling" is a type of high field gradient or differential capacitance between two elevated electrodes over a conducting ground plane for wireless energy transmission involving high frequency alternating current potential differences transmitted between two plates or nodes. The electrostatic forces through natural media across a conductor situated in the changing magnetic flux can transfer energy to a receiving device (such as Tesla's wireless bulbs).[29][30][31]. Sometimes called "the Tesla effect" it is the application of a type of electrical displacement, i.e., the passage of electrical energy through space and matter, other than and in addition to the development of a potential across a conductor.[29][32][33]

Tesla stated,

Instead of depending on [electrodynamic] induction at a distance to light the tube . . . [the] ideal way of lighting a hall or room would . . . be to produce such a condition in it that an illuminating device could be moved and put anywhere, and that it is lighted, no matter where it is put and without being electrically connected to anything. I have been able to produce such a condition by creating in the room a powerful, rapidly alternating electrostatic field. For this purpose I suspend a sheet of metal a distance from the ceiling on insulating cords and connect it to one terminal of the induction coil, the other terminal being preferably connected to the ground. Or else I suspend two sheets . . . each sheet being connected with one of the terminals of the coil, and their size being carefully determined. An exhausted tube may then be carried in the hand anywhere between the sheets or placed anywhere, even a certain distance beyond them; it remains always luminous.[34][35]

and

“In some cases when small amounts of energy are required the high elevation of the terminals, and more particularly of the receiving-terminal D' may not be necessary, since, especially when the frequency of the currents is very high, a sufficient amount of energy may be collected at that terminal by electrostatic induction from the upper air strata, which are rendered conducting by the active terminal of the transmitter or through which the currents from the same are conveyed.[36]

Far field

Means for long conductors of electricity forming part of an electric circuit and electrically connecting said ionized beam to an electric circuit. Hettinger 1917 -(U.S. Patent 1,309,031)

Far field methods achieve longer ranges, often multiple kilometer ranges, where the distance is much greater than the diameter of the device(s). With radio wave and optical devices the main reason for longer ranges is the fact that electromagnetic radiation in the far-field can be made to match the shape of the receiving area (using high directivity antennas or well-collimated Laser Beam) thereby delivering almost all emitted power at long ranges. The maximum directivity for antennas is physically limited by diffraction.

Beamed power, size, distance, and efficiency

The size of the components may be dictated by the distance from transmitter to receiver, the wavelength and the Rayleigh criterion or diffraction limit, used in standard radio frequency antenna design, which also applies to lasers. In addition to the Rayleigh criterion Airy's diffraction limit is also frequently used to determine an approximate spot size at an arbitrary distance from the aperture.

The Rayleigh criterion dictates that any radio wave, microwave or laser beam will spread and become weaker and diffuse over distance; the larger the transmitter antenna or laser aperture compared to the wavelength of radiation, the tighter the beam and the less it will spread as a function of distance (and vice versa). Smaller antennae also suffer from excessive losses due to side lobes. However, the concept of laser aperture considerably differs from an antenna. Typically, a laser aperture much larger than the wavelength induces multi-moded radiation and mostly collimators are used before emitted radiation couples into a fiber or into space.

Ultimately, beamwidth is physically determined by diffraction due to the dish size in relation to the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation used to make the beam. Microwave power beaming can be more efficient than lasers, and is less prone to atmospheric attenuation caused by dust or water vapor losing atmosphere to vaporize the water in contact.

Then the power levels are calculated by combining the above parameters together, and adding in the gains and losses due to the antenna characteristics and the transparency of the medium through which the radiation passes. That process is known as calculating a link budget. However, the above mathematics does not account for atmospheric absorption which can be a severe damping effect on propagating energy in addition to causing severe fading and loss of QoS.

Radio and microwave

The earliest work in the area of wireless transmission via radio waves (electromagnetic waves) was performed by Thomas Edison in 1875. Later, Guglielmo Marconi worked with a modified form of Edison's transmitter. Nikola Tesla also investigated radio transmission and reception.

Japanese researcher Hidetsugu Yagi also investigated wireless energy transmission using a directional array antenna that he designed. In February 1926, Yagi and Uda published their first paper on the tuned high-gain directional array now known as the Yagi antenna. While it did not prove to be particularly useful for power transmission, this beam antenna has been widely adopted throughout the broadcasting and wireless telecommunications industries due to its excellent performance characteristics.[13]

Power transmission via radio waves can be made more directional, allowing longer distance power beaming, with shorter wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, typically in the microwave range. A rectenna may be used to convert the microwave energy back into electricity. Rectenna conversion efficiencies exceeding 95% have been realized. Power beaming using microwaves has been proposed for the transmission of energy from orbiting solar power satellites to Earth and the beaming of power to spacecraft leaving orbit has been considered.[37][38]

Power beaming by microwaves has the difficulty that for most space applications the required aperture sizes are very large due to diffraction limiting antenna directionality. For example, the 1978 NASA Study of solar power satellites required a 1-km diameter transmitting antenna, and a 10 km diameter receiving rectenna, for a microwave beam at 2.45 GHz[citation needed]. These sizes can be somewhat decreased by using shorter wavelengths, although short wavelengths may have difficulties with atmospheric absorption and beam blockage by rain or water droplets. Because of the Thinned array curse, it is not possible to make a narrower beam by combining the beams of several smaller satellites.

For earthbound applications a large area 10 km diameter receiving array allows large total power levels to be used while operating at the low power density suggested for human electromagnetic exposure safety. A human safe power density of 1 mW/cm2 distributed across a 10 km diameter area corresponds to 750 megawatts total power level. This is the power level found in many modern electric power plants.

High power

Wireless Power Transmission (using microwaves) is well proven. Experiments in the tens of kilowatts have been performed at Goldstone in California in 1975[19][20][39] and more recently (1997) at Grand Bassin on Reunion Island.[40]

These methods achieve distances on the order of a kilometer.

Laser

With a laser beam centered on its panel of photovoltaic cells, a lightweight model plane makes the first flight of an aircraft powered by a laser beam inside a building at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

In the case of electromagnetic radiation closer to visible region of spectrum (10s of microns (um) to 10s of nm), power can be transmitted by converting electricity into a laser beam that is then pointed at a solar cell receiver. This mechanism is generally known as "powerbeaming" because the power is beamed at a receiver that can convert it to usable electrical energy.

There are quite a few unique advantages of laser based energy transfer that outweigh the disadvantages[41].

  1. collimated monochromatic wavefront propagation allows narrow beam cross-section area for energy confinement over large ranges.
  2. compact size of solid state lasers-photovoltaics semiconductor diodes allows ease of integration into products with small form factors.
  3. ability to operate with zero radio-frequency interference to existing communication devices i.e. wi-fi and cell phones.
  4. control of Wireless Energy Access, instead of omnidirectional transfer where there can be no authentication before transferring energy.

These allow laser-based wireless energy transfer concept to compete with conventional energy transfer methods.

Its drawbacks are:

  1. Conversion to light, such as with a laser, is moderately inefficient (although quantum cascade lasers improve this)
  2. Conversion back into electricity is moderately inefficient, with photovoltaic cells achieving 40%-50% efficiency.[42] (Note that conversion efficiency is rather higher with monochromatic light than with insolation of solar panels).
  3. Atmospheric absorption causes losses.
  4. As with microwave beaming, this method requires a direct line of sight with the target.

The laser "powerbeaming" technology has been mostly explored in military weapons[43][44][45] and aerospace [46][47] applications and is now being developed for commercial and consumer electronics Low-Power applications. Wireless energy transfer system using laser for consumer space has to satisfy Laser safety requirements standardized under IEC 60825.

To develop an understanding of the trade-offs of Laser ("a special type of light wave"-based system):[48][49][50][51]

  1. Propagation of a laser beam [52][53][54] (on how Laser beam propagation is much less affected by diffraction limits)
  2. Coherence and the range limitation problem (on how spatial and spectral coherence characteristics of Lasers allows better distance-to-power capabilities [55])
  3. Airy disk (on how most fundamentally wavelength dictates the size of a disk with distance)
  4. Applications of laser diodes (on how the laser sources are utilized in various industries and their sizes are reducing for better integration)

Geoffrey Landis [56][57][58] is one of the pioneers of solar power satellite [59] and laser-based transfer of energy especially for space and lunar missions. The continuously increasing demand for safe and frequent space missions has resulted in serious thoughts on a futuristic space elevator[60] [61] that would be powered by lasers. NASA's space elevator would need wireless power to be beamed to it for it to climb a tether.[62]

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center has demonstrated flight of a lightweight unmanned model plane powered by a laser beam.[63] This proof-of-concept demonstrates the feasibility of periodic recharging using the laser beam system and the lack of need to return to ground.

Electrical conduction

Wireless energy transmission demonstration during Tesla's high frequency and potential lecture of 1891.
Tesla coil transformer wound in the form of a flat spiral. This is the transmitter form as described in U.S. Patent 645,576.

Electrical energy can be transmitted by means of electrical currents made to flow through naturally existing conductors, specifically the earth, lakes and oceans, and through the upper atmosphere — a natural medium that can be made conducting if the breakdown voltage is exceeded and the constituent gas becomes ionized. For example, when a high voltage is applied across a neon tube the gas becomes ionized and a current passes between the two internal electrodes. In a wireless energy transmission system using this principle, a high-power ultraviolet beam might be used to form vertical ionized channels in the air directly above the transmitter-receiver stations. The same concept is used in virtual lightning rods, the electrolaser electroshock weapon[64] and has been proposed for disabling vehicles.[65][66][67] A global system for "the transmission of electrical energy without wires" dependant upon the high electrical conductivity of the earth was proposed by Nikola Tesla as early as 1904.[68]

The earth is 4,000 miles radius. Around this conducting earth is an atmosphere. The earth is a conductor; the atmosphere above is a conductor, only there is a little stratum between the conducting atmosphere and the conducting earth which is insulating. . . . Now, you realize right away that if you set up differences of potential at one point, say, you will create in the media corresponding fluctuations of potential. But, since the distance from the earth's surface to the conducting atmosphere is minute, as compared with the distance of the receiver at 4,000 miles, say, you can readily see that the energy cannot travel along this curve and get there, but will be immediately transformed into conduction currents, and these currents will travel like currents over a wire with a return. The energy will be recovered in the circuit, not by a beam that passes along this curve and is reflected and absorbed, . . . but it will travel by conduction and will be recovered in this way.[69]

A number of researchers have experimented with Tesla's wireless energy transmission system design and made observations that may be inconsistent with a basic tenet of mainstream physics related to the scalar derivatives of the electromagnetic potentials, which are presently considered to be nonphysical.[70][71][72][73]

The Tesla worldwide wireless energy transmission system would combine electrical power transmission along with broadcasting and point-to-point wireless telecommunications, and allow for the elimination of many existing high-tension power transmission lines, facilitating the interconnection of electrical generation plants on a global scale.

One of Tesla's patents[74] suggests he may have misinterpreted 25–70 km nodal structures associated with lightning observations during the 1899 Colorado Springs experiments in terms of circumglobally propagating standing waves instead of a local interference phenomenon of direct and reflected waves involving a nearby mountain range, or between the ground and the ionosphere.

Many properties of the earth-ionosphere cavity that have subsequently been mapped in great detail were unknown to Tesla, and a consideration of the earth-ionosphere or concentric spherical shell waveguide propagation parameters as they are known today shows that wireless energy transfer by direct excitation of a Schumann cavity resonance mode is not realizable.[75] "The conceptual difficulty with this model is that, at the very low frequencies that Tesla said that he employed (1-50 kHz), earth-ionosphere waveguide excitation, now well understood, would seem to be impossible with the either the Colorado Springs or the Long Island apparatus (at least with the apparatus that is visible in the photographs of these facilities)."[76]

On the other hand, Tesla's concept of a global wireless electrical power transmission grid and telecommunications network based upon energy transmission by means of a spherical conductor transmission line with an upper half-space return circuit, while apparently not practical for power transmission, is feasible, defying no law of physics. Wireless energy transmission by means of a spherical conductor “single-wire” surface wave transmission line may also be possible, a feasibility study using a sufficiently powerful and properly tuned Tesla coil earth-resonance transmitter being called for.

Tesla patents

Nikola Tesla had multiple patents disclosing long distance wireless transmission. U.S. Patent 0,645,576 System of Transmission of Electrical Energy and U.S. Patent 0,649,621 Apparatus for Transmission of Electrical Energy, describe useful combinations of transformer coils for this purpose. The transmitter is arranged and excited to cause electrical energy to propagate through the natural medium from one point to another remote point to a receiver of the transmitted signals.[77] The production of currents at very high potential is attained in these oscillators. U.S. Patent 0,787,412 Art of Transmitting Electrical Energy through the Natural Mediums describes a combined system for broadcasting, point-to-point wireless telecommunications and electrical power distribution achieved through the use of earth-resonance principles.

See also

References

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